Chapter 15: Reactions TUESDAY, JANUARY 3, 1961, NURSES' BOQ, NAS PENSACOLA "We've split up." Beth looked up from unpacking. Janet and Kelly stood in her open doorway. "Oh, Janet," Beth said sadly. The two friends entered and Kelly closed the door behind them. Janet shrugged. "I'm over it." "That quick?" "Well . . ." She paused. "I never really loved him. I think, if I'd had any deep feeling toward him, then yes I'd still be upset about it." She paused again. "I met all the requirements for a socially acceptable girlfriend of one of the country's most eligible bachelors. That's all I really was to him. And to be honest," she continued, looking a little ashamed, "I suppose he met the requirements as an acceptable boyfriend for me, in my father's eyes. I never really saw beyond his bank account." Beth was speechless after that confession and revelation. She turned back to unpacking, unsure of what to say. Janet was more ashamed of herself than upset with the breakup. It was quiet for a few minutes. "What did your family think of Al?" Kelly asked suddenly, breaking the silence. "My family loved him," she answered truthfully, thinking back. A few minutes after Al had proposed to her, Gran came out on the porch to check on them. They were still standing there in each other's arms. She officially welcomed Al into the family, and got a little teary eyed. The three went back in. Gran made the announcement and the guests made a toast. Christmas Day was anti-climatic, in a way, but the three spent it talking and making plans. With Al about to leave on another cruise, and a date set for June, the bulk of the planning and leg work fell to Beth. Al had suggested that they wait until fall, but Beth didn't mind that she had to do all the work. She wanted to be a June bride. Not wanting to start their engagement with an argument, Al didn't push the subject. Because their time was short, Beth made a strange request, as they drove back to Pensacola. *"Al? I know this is going to sound crazy, but I'd like to keep our engagement quiet, at least until you've shipped out."* *Al looked at her puzzled, "Why?"* *"Well, we only have a few days together before you leave and I'd like to spend them quietly, with you. I don't want a bunch of people trying to throw together last minute parties or anything."* She could tell Al was still puzzled by her request, but he thought it over as they drove on. About five miles from the base he agreed with her request, but told her that George and Adam already knew. He would make George swear to secrecy. "Yoo-hoo! Beth?" Kelly was standing beside her, trying to get her attention. "Yes, Kelly, I know you're there." "You haven't heard a word I've said, have you?" "You asked me what my family thought of Al and I answered." Kelly glanced at Janet, crossed her arms, and shook her head. "I was telling you what my family did on Christmas Day." She peered at Beth. "What happened?" "Nothing," Beth said. She tried to contain her excitement. It wasn't working. She could feel her color rising. "Oh, yes it did! You're changing colors. Out with it, Beth. What happened?" As much as she wanted to keep things quiet, Beth realized it would be simpler to tell them and then make them promise to keep it to themselves. "Well, something did happen, but if I tell you, you have to promise to keep it a secret of a little while." Janet and Kelly exchanged looks, curious. Both nodded. Beth pulled the ring out of her locked jewelry chest, and slid it on her finger. Both women's eyes grew wide with surprise. Kelly recovered first. "He asked you to marry him?" Beth could only nod. Janet studied the diamond. "Nice size rock, too," she commented, impressed. Kelly looked up at Beth. "Oh Beth, I'm so happy for you." Beth's two friends hugged her impulsively, smiling, with tears in their eyes. When they recovered, Janet asked. "Why all the secrecy?" Beth shrugged. "I just want to enjoy these last few days with Al, quietly." "Sounds romantic," Kelly commented, giving her a sly wink. Beth laughed. "We have plans to make, Kelly." "I take it that George will be the best man?" Janet asked, seriously. Beth nodded. The room fell silent, as the three looked at one another. Beth knew what was on the their minds: who would be the maid of honor. She had given it some thought on the way back. She told Al that she couldn't decide on which one to ask. Beth and Kelly had been friends for about a year now, since her arrival at Pensacola. She and Janet only became friends once she started seeing Al, since George and Al were such good friends. The only advice Al could give her was for her to ask both to be members of the bridal party. He would find someone to be a groomsman, if that was her plan. But the problem would still be there. Janet spoke up, breaking the silence. "Beth, with Al gone, you could use some help with the planning. I've been in so many weddings and seen how badly some of them were planned, that I've always wanted to plan one. If you don't mind, I would like to be your wedding coordinator." Beth hesitated. "Beth," Janet said, looking serious. "I can see the dilemma you're in. I sincerely want to do this. I've been a bridesmaid or a maid of honor nearly every year since I was sixteen. My mother has a huge Irish family." She looked over at Kelly. "Did you know, the summer I graduated from high school, I was in seven weddings? Most were family." "Goodness!" Beth commented, impressed and amazed. Kelly gave Janet and impish grin. "You know that saying about being a bridesmaid?" "Don't you dare." Janet threatened. Beth giggled. Relieved, she took Janet's hand. "Thank you, Janet. It means a great deal to me." "So," Kelly asked, still grinning impishly. "Does this mean I'm the maid of honor?" ****************************** The morning of Al's departure, Beth got up a little earlier than normal to meet Al at the airfield. She was dreading this separation. They'd been together almost daily since June, and her days were about to feel empty, even with the wedding plans. She slipped out, unobserved. Good thing, too. She wore the engagement ring, and if any of the others had seen her wearing it, she would have been waylaid. Al was waiting for her. Beth wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him without so much as a "Good morning." Al gently and reluctantly disengaged himself. "Don't want the old man to see us, and start one of his fraternization tirades," he said softly, not letting go of her. "Oh, before I forget." He reached into his flight suit pocket, and pulled out a pair of gold wings, slightly smaller than the ones he normally wore on his uniform. He handed them to her. "It's a tradition, of sorts. A pilot is supposed to give a pair of wings to his wife, mother, or girlfriend. I think I heard someone call them ‘sweetheart wings'." Beth's fingers closed around the wings, emotions almost getting the best of her. "That's sweet, Al. Thank you," She opened her hand, looking down at the wings, trying to decide where to put them. She looked back up into his serious dark eyes. He leaned closer to her and whispered, "I love you." Beth could feel the tears building up. She didn't want to start crying, but this was more difficult than she'd imagined it would be. "It's going to be miserable here without you, Al." "I know, honey. You'll be so busy, I'll be home before you know it." "And half the things will still be undone," she replied ruefully. He smiled. "Yeah, it seems to work out that way, doesn't it?" "Please be careful, Al." "I will," he assured her. Al pulled her closer. He kissed her, this time more deeply than before. It would be their last kiss for a long time. ********************************** Commander Shirley Layton gathered up a stack of paperwork at the main station, waiting for the rest of the shift to arrive. It was still a bit early, but she liked to greet the subordinates who worked the shift with her. The door opened and Lt. Townsend wandered in. *Wander* was the appropriate word. Lt. Townsend looked as if her mind was a million miles away. She also looked depressed. All sorts of alarms went off in Shirley's head. "Good morning, Lieutenant. You're a little early this morning." "Yes, ma'am." "Why don't you join me for a cup of coffee, before the others arrive?" "Yes, ma'am." The cafeteria was relatively empty. At this time of day, most of the activity was back in the kitchens. Shirley didn't need to ask her what was wrong because she noticed the engagement ring as Lt. Townsend reached for her coffee. She put two and two together. "Well. I never thought I'd see the day Al Calavicci proposed," Shirley declared, clasping the startled woman's left hand. "When did he ask you?" "Christmas Eve." "Congratulations, Lieutenant." "Thank you, ma'am." "So, when's the big day?" "June 24th." "He shipped out this morning, didn't he?" Lt. Townsend sighed. "Yes, ma'am." Shirley patted her arm, gently. "Courage, my dear. It'll be June before you know it. If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask. Never had children of my own, so I enjoy helping out the younger officers when I can." "Thank you, ma'am." "Does anyone else know you are engaged?" "Lt. Thomas, Lt. Whitmore and Lt. Hardy do. But I had planned to start telling others today." "Good. It'd be hard to organize a bridal shower if it's a surprised to the *guests*." A smile crossed the young woman's face. "Yes, ma'am, it would." ***************************** Beth kicked off her shoes and stretched out across her bed. She had gotten mixed reactions from her friends to her news. Quite a few of the other nurses couldn't believe Al had proposed. A good portion of those were sure he would change his mind. Samantha was the only one who actually told her she was making a mistake. She was no longer dating the Marine, and Beth wondered if Samantha was sincere or jealous. She studied the gold wings, thinking about the man who gave them to her. Beth carefully placed the wings next to Al's photograph, wondering how his friends and colleagues had reacted to the news. SOMEWHERE AT SEA George watched as Al's plane taxied off the carrier. He looked out over the water, feeling an inner peace. George loved being at sea and believed he had been born in the wrong century. Back when sea travel was more prevalent, he could imagine himself at sea nearly 365 days a year. Flying also gave him a good feeling, but not as lasting as sailing. George was only truly happy when he was at sea. Feeling good about his life in general, he turned and made his way to the pilots ready room. The usual gang was assembled, engaged in a variety of activities ranging from eating to sleeping. George positioned himself at the podium in the front of the room. He had purposely waited until Al was on patrol before making this announcement. "Listen up, guys. We've got to come up with a way to throw a party." It wasn't the greatest beginning, but at least it got everyone's attention, including those who were asleep. "At sea? Some party," one snorted. "What for?" This was from Chip. George grinned. "Well, it's a bachelor party, actually" "A bachelor party? At sea? You're gonna pull some strings and get booze and women on board, George?" Chip asked. "I don't think I could persuade the Navy to go along with that, I'm afraid." "Man, it'll be a drag," Chip commented, shaking his head. "Who's this for, anyway?" Before he could answer one of the other pilots, a newer guy, spoke up. "Hey, why not ask Bingo? He might have a few ideas." "That's a thought," Chip added, nodding. "Uh, not if it's going to be a surprise." "What do you mean?" Chip asked, confused. "He means," Harm said, looking up from his book, "the party's for Al. Right?" George nodded. Chip and several others nearly fell out of their seats. "Al's getting married?" "Yes. June 24, 1961." "To who?" This, again, was from Chip. "Who do you think, dummy," Harm replied. "Miss Goody-Two-Shoes? What? Did he get her pregnant or something?" "I know it's a difficult concept for you, Chip," George replied, "but they're in love." Chip, still stunned, ignored the insult. "I can't believe it." "Just ask him yourself when he gets back." "George," Harm addressed him, "why not hold off until we get back?" "That's fine. But we still need to plan it, now, because of our time table. We're cutting it close, as it is. Any ideas?" ********************************** Al climbed out of the cockpit and stretched. It was good to be flying long distances again, but the first trip was usually a sore one. He waited for the all-clear signal before crossing the busy deck. The familiar activities of launching and landing jets unfolded around him as he made his way to the hatch. Clustered around it was a small group of pilots, with George at the center. It didn't take a genius to realized who they were waiting for. "Is it true?" Chip asked without preamble. Al looked at George, who nodded. "Yeah, it is." Those of his friends who were truly happy for him were in the midst of congratulating him on his choice of brides. Al couldn't have agreed more. Chip wasn't among the well-wishers. He said something to Al, just as a fighter was taking off. "What?" Al shouted over the roar of the engines. "I said," Chip replied, once the level of noise dropped, "I think you're making a big mistake, buddy." Al opened the hatch and said, before stepping through, "You can think anything you damn well please." Chip followed him through. "Do you realize what marriage means?" "Yeah. So?" Chip proceeded to point out all the tings Al couldn't do if he was tied down to one woman. Al was only half listening. He had given a lot of thought to the idea of marrying Beth, and he was happy with his decision. Al had gone through all the arguments himself, and was positive that waking up with Beth was more appealing than waking up with a hangover. He heard the words ‘wild sex'. *Ok, so I can't vouch for that, at the moment. But she scarfs up those novels like there's no tomorrow. That has to count for something. Maybe she's taking notes.* "You're crazy, Bingo." "Al." "What?" "Stop calling me Bingo, Chip." For some reason that nickname grated at his nerves lately. He wondered if, by proposing, he had passed into another phase of life. "See? She's changing you already." Al made no comment. He was almost at his cabin door. "Why'd you ask her to marry you?" Al paused and turned to face him. "What a stupid question, Chip! I love her. She loves me. I asked; she said yes. What part of that don't you understand?" Chip was serious and quiet. "I never thought that you'd finally settle down." "People change, Chip." Al entered his cabin and left Chip standing alone in the corridor.